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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A top Democratic National Committee official got major party backing Thursday in his challenge to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, support that brings with it the promise of help with fundraising and grassroots organizing support, both of which would be crucial in trying to flip a Senate seat in this deeply red state.
In a statement announcing the group's endorsement of DNC associate chairman Jaime Harrison, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto told The Associated Press that Harrison "has shown his commitment to getting the job done."
The backing follows up high-level meetings Harrison had with top Senate Democrats in February as he launched an exploratory bid for the seat. He made his bid official this week in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, saying he feels Democrats in the South are "on the verge of a renaissance," a reference in part to Democrat Joe Cunningham's 2018 victory in South Carolina's 1st District, becoming the first of his party in decades to flip a South Carolina seat from red to blue.
Graham, 63, is seeking his fourth term in office. In a launch video this week, Harrison criticized the senator's undulating relationship with President Donald Trump and saying Graham "has traded his moral compass for petty political gain."
Graham has often fielded challenges from the right, subject to criticism that he's been too willing to work with Democrats to accurately represent conservative South Carolinians. When he sought the White House in 2016, Graham frequently clashed with then-candidate Trump, who lodged the same critique of Graham, painting him as wishy-washy and even reading out Graham's personal cellphone number to a room full of supporters and reporters.
Graham ultimately said he wouldn't back either Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the general election, saying the Republican Party had been "conned."
Over the last year, though, Graham's relationship with Trump and the GOP in general has evolved. Graham and Trump have become frequent partners for golf outings, which Graham says has shown him Trump can be both "charming and gracious." After Graham's fiery defense of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, South Carolina Republican activists who had at times questioned his motives embraced him.
Graham's campaign didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on the race Thursday.
Economist Gloria Bromell Tinubu has also announced her candidacy in the Democratic primary for Graham's seat. By weighing into a contested race, DSCC is aiming to send a message to Democrats to rally behind Harrison as the best choice to unseat the Republican.
Though it would be a challenge to flip a Senate seat from red to blue in South Carolina, to do so would likely take millions of dollars in fundraising, an area where national-level groups like the DSCC would be crucial, as they were in Democrat Doug Jones' 2017 victory in Alabama. Earlier this year, Harrison said he thought it could take $10 million to win next year's race in South Carolina.
South Carolina last elected a new Democratic senator in 1966, with Fritz Hollings.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
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